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State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy has just a 91-vote lead over his Democratic primary challenger, Erie County Legislature Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant, and nearly 1,200 ballots still need to be counted.
Kennedy's lead in the 63rd District narrowed Friday afternoon from 271 votes to 91 after totals stored on the computer memory of each voting machine were compiled. The original wider lead, unofficially reported by the Board of Elections on Thursday night, was based on reports of election workers at each polling site.
The board will begin its official count next Friday. It will include tallying absentee, military and affidavit ballots, filled out by people who were not listed in the voter register.
That process is expected to be intensely watched by both campaigns and could set the stage for future legal challenges over the validity of some ballots.
Turnout in the primary was 20 percent, based on 21,685 votes cast on the machines and 1,188 returned absentee ballots.
"This one's not over with yet," said Democratic Elections Commissioner Dennis M. Ward.
The closeness of that race and the outcomes of other races raise questions about the significance of money, endorsements and grass-roots support in party primaries.
Grant spent about $20,000, she said, while Kennedy's campaign finance filings show he has spent more than $400,000 since January. Kennedy also had endorsements from the Erie County Democratic Committee.
"It doesn't matter how much money you have, what really matters is the people believe in you," Grant said.
Kennedy wasn't talking to reporters Friday.
"We knew this was going to be a close race from the beginning," said his spokesman, John A. Mackowiak. "[Thursday] night, Sen. Kennedy was victorious. As this process goes on Sen. Kennedy will remain the victor in the race."
The 63rd Senate District, which includes part of Buffalo and Lackawanna and Cheektowaga, is 33 percent black and 56 percent white.
Demographics of the district and turnout helped drive the results in the race, said Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Leonard Lenihan.
"There could be a lot of factors, but certainly Betty Jean has a base of support that coalesced around her in unanimous fashion," said Lenihan.
Grant was successful in getting people to the polls because she is known in the community and works hard, said Warren Galloway, a registered Republican who lives in Buffalo and is active in the community.
"People are looking for political people who want to serve and not to be served, and Betty's considered a public servant," he said.
The migration of racial minorities to Cheektowaga also helped Grant, he said.
Developer Carl Paladino was active in several races and sounded happy with the way things turned out Thursday, though his considerable influence in Erie County did not migrate northward.
He supported Republican Assembly candidate David DiPietro and Democratic South District Council Member Christopher P. Scanlon, who won, and Niagara County Republican State Senate candidate Johnny G. Destino, who lost in a landslide to Sen. George D. Maziarz.
"I'm a little bit disappointed in the Destino thing. We knew we were facing unconquerable odds," Paladino said.
The 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate said he spoke with Maziarz and is hoping the senator will take on a significant leadership role in the Senate next year.
In another key Senate race, in the 60th District, Sen. Mark J. Grisanti was able to hold off a primary challenge from Kevin T. Stocker, while lawyer Michael L. Amodeo won a Democratic primary against Alfred T. Coppola and Charles M. Swanick.
"Obviously, the Amodeo race was a huge upset," Lenihan said. "People want fresh faces, they want change."
Grisanti's ability to hold onto the seat in a Democratic-leaning district could hinge on whether Swanick, who will appear on the Conservative line, runs an active campaign.

147th Assembly District

DiPietro was successful in a four-way Republican primary in this district in southern Erie and Wyoming County where fundraising and get-out-the-vote help from Paladino appeared to have played a significant role.
"I think this race is proof positive that Carl can have an impact on an open-seat Republican primary in Western New York," said Republican strategist Michael Caputo, noting that DiPietro did not have the support of the Republican establishment in either county.
DiPietro, who did not return a call seeking comment, also has the endorsement of the Conservative Party. He will face Independence Party member Christina M. Abt on the Democratic, Working Families and Independence lines.
Abt won an Independence primary Thursday against well-financed opponent Daniel J. Humiston.
She relied on two mailings and knocking on doors, saying that personal contact with voters matters.
"These people need to know that you care," she said.

149th Assembly District

Assemblyman Sean Ryan was able to easily dispatch challengers Kevin P. Gaughan and Joseph A. Mascia, winning 64 percent of the vote in a Democratic primary.
Ryan was able to rely on a wide organization and ran a well-funded campaign.
While Gaughan had name recognition through his high-profile efforts to downsize government, Ryan sent out five direct mail pieces and had the benefits of incumbency, having won a special election for the seat last year.
"The takeaway from the whole campaign was you've got to knock on doors and talk to people to figure out what's going on," Ryan said.

jterreri@buffnews.com